Why Do Conversations Turn Awkward?

A Harvard study found that around 69% of conversations continue longer than at least one of the participants wants.
A Harvard study found that around 69% of conversations continue longer than at least one of the participants wants.

Talk is cheap, which might explain why the majority of conversations go on too long, according to two recent studies. In one study, people mostly familiar with one another had conversations, while in another, strangers were invited to converse. Familiarity did not breed conversation: In both cases, more than 60 percent of the participants said the conversation dragged on longer than he or she would have liked.

According to study author Adam Mastroianni, politeness leads people to allow a conversation to go on past the point that holds their interest. He compared conversations to driving on a freeway, where drivers can't just get off whenever they like. "You have to wait for the appropriate time to exit, and it turns out that the distance between those exits can sometimes be quite long," he said. Not surprisingly, participants in conversations that lasted too long enjoyed their time less than participants in the 2 percent of conversations that ended "on time."

Say what?

  • Although both men and women say about 16,000 words a day, on average, men interrupt women three times more often than women interrupt men.

  • Research in 2013 found that people talk about themselves in 60 percent of their conversations.

  • A 2015 study found that British people will spend a total of five months of their lives talking about the weather.

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    • A Harvard study found that around 69% of conversations continue longer than at least one of the participants wants.
      A Harvard study found that around 69% of conversations continue longer than at least one of the participants wants.